Last night at the end of Ma'ariv (the evening prayer service) someone announced quickly that anyone who was interested in going to Hevron the next morning at 5:45am, should let him know. It turns out the Neve Daniel has a long-standing minhag (custom) of going to daven Shacharit on the Friday before Rosh Chodesh (the celebration of the new month--today being the first day of the Hebrew month of Kislev) at the Ma'arat HaMachpela (the Cave of our Patriarchs) in Hevron. Sounded like a nice thing to do to me so I made arrangements to travel down to Hevron with a friend to meet-up with the group. We ended-up being 4 people in the car, all Anglo olim who have been in Israel from 20 years to 5 months.
We pulled-up just in front of the entrance to the Ma'ara, found a place to park and marched in (through the double metal detectors) to find the rest of our group. The coordinator of the outing was directing us to the small hall where the Kever (grave/tomb) Ya'akov and Leah is. We had about 25 people from Neve Daniel including twin boys who were being called to the Torah for the first time (their official Bar Mitzva is tomorrow), which only added to the simcha of the event. There is a special feeling in being able to daven in such a powerful and holy place, the burial places of many of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, the place first purchased by Avraham for the burial of Sara. It is even more special to be there, not as a visitor, but as someone who is able to jump in the car and be in this amazing place in a few short minutes.
The other interesting thing to come out of the trip was the discussion of the two vatikim (old timers) about how they used to be able to wander around Hevron with no fear (as well as places like Bet Lehem and Ramallah) before the Intifada. They told of afternoon tea in Bet Lehem and being able to informally interact with the Arab population. Then the first Intifada came in 1987 and the tension rose and made it more difficult and tense to travel in these areas. Between the first and second Intifadas, people still went to these places with out much of a second thought. However, since the second Intifada broke out in 2000 it is now impossible to go to these places and it is not likely to ever revert back to the previous situation. How unfortunate, but this is the fate of a people who have been fed a steady diet of hate and vitriol through their textbooks, government TV and radio and other official communications. The economies of places like Hevron are forever limited due to the violence that emanates from these population centers. It is such a shame...but alas so is the fate of those whose government wants nothing but violence.
At least we are still able to continue to visit (at least in Hevron) where there is a large security presence around the Jewish neighborhoods and the Ma'ara itself. Maybe one day the situation will change for the better.
Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov!!